Could Coronavirus Threaten US Domestic Travel?

With the COVID-19 outbreak threatening to suspend many factors of everyday life, aviation has not been untouched. Already subject to international travel restrictions, domestic flying seems to be a safe bet for airlines. However, now perhaps, domestic travel could prove to be the next major wound for airlines amid these turbulent times.

American and Delta Planes at LAX
Domestic travel could take a hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Getty Images

Plunging demand

Airlines in the United States are consistently sounding the bell on plunging demand. Nearly every major airline has taken steps to cut capacity, with more expected to come.

United has sounded alarm bells on low-occupancy flights. Photo: Getty Images

To counteract this, airlines are already starting to slash flights. Most airlines have decided against ending service to cities. Rather, airlines are cutting flights where there are multiple daily frequencies or else service to other cities. Unlike the Pacific Islands, this ensures that more US cities still retain air service which can provide crucial economic links.

American airlines
US airlines are not yet ending service entirely to a number of destinations. Photo: Getty Images

But, there is little incentive for airlines to operate flights in this climate if those aircraft are flying empty.

Stay at home directives

A number of states and localities are also issuing stay-at-home directives. These directives shut down a lot of nonessential businesses. This includes locations like museums, malls, amusement parks, movie theaters, and more. Essentially, agencies are seeking to limit the movement and congregation of people where the virus could spread easily. This is taking its toll on tourist attractions which may otherwise attract a number of fans.

Major tourist attractions like Disneyland are shut amid the pandemic. Photo: HarshLight via Flickr

With tourist destinations shut and passengers told to stay home, this limits the number of passengers boarding aircraft. Thus, as more orders take effect, it is likely that airlines will continue to draw down domestic services. Low-cost carriers that cater to leisure travelers will likely see the largest hit.

Could all domestic travel in the United States shut down?

If there is one thing that anyone should know about aviation, it is that anything is possible. Although, it seems unlikely that all domestic travel will shut down in the US. For one, there are important cargo links that airlines provide. And, if the need to move medical personnel and equipment around arises, then airlines will largely come in to fill the gap.

A full shuttering of domestic operations seems quite unlikely. Photo: Simple Flying

Moreover, if the situation does improve, airlines will likely see a rebound in demand as is happening in China. How soon that happens is anyone’s best guess. Nevertheless, there are likely some routes that airlines will continue to maintain due to demand. While the number of flights per day will likely be reduced, the consolidation of passengers should lead to higher loads.


It is unlikely that there will be a complete shut down of domestic air links in the United States. However, a major reduction in services is not out of the question. Airlines do not make money by flying empty planes and, in this environment, there is no incentive to do so. However, if the situation starts to improve sooner rather than later, a rebound in demand is certainly possible.

What impact do you think the coronavirus pandemic will have on domestic US travel? Do you still have to travel domestically? Let us know in the comments!